For far too long mental illness has been put in a box as something that wasn’t discussed, addressed or taken as seriously as a physical illness. However, a mental ailment can be equally debilitating -and in some cases moreso- to those that are physical.
Over 40 million Americans are battling a mental illness and 56% of them do not get the help they need. With such high numbers this shows that no one struggling with mental illness is alone. Nothing makes me happier than seeing someone step up and speak the truth about their personal experience with mental illness and create an environment of support for others also struggling. This is exactly what Ashley Cunningham, founder and president of Grow With The Flow: A foundation for those wired a little different, has done. I want to send a special thank you to Ashley for taking the time to give me an inside look into this incredible nonprofit and for having the strength to know that her story and help are needed by so many. In Ashley’s own words, let’s learn more!
BMM: What is the mission of your nonprofit?
GWTF: Grow with the Flow’s primary goal is to support, educate, and raise funds for young adults battling a mental illness.
- Support: We look towards creating a community for mental health survivors and warriors by putting together support groups. We think this will be a great way for those to meet new friends, find a mentor, or be a beacon of hope for others.
- Educate: We believe that the reason there is a stigma behind mental illness is because society is not well informed on this topic. To help others better understand we look to host virtual interviews with different healthcare professionals, survivors, and more. We intend to use our social media platforms by posting tips and tricks, sharing scientific evidence, and to start a conversation.
- Raise: Our largest goal is to provide funding for those struggling to cover therapy, treatment, and or medication costs. Throughout the year you will be able to nominate a student living with a mental illness for our scholarship program. All one would need to do is tell us your/his/hers/their story, provide a student id, and a letter of recommendation. In May, during mental health awareness month, Our goal is to announce our scholarship winner(s).
BMM: Why is this cause important to you?
GWTF: Over 40 million Americans are battling a mental illness. 56% of those do not get the help they need. More specifically, 39% of students are battling a mental illness and 67% of those young adults do not seek help. Often, this is because of the cost of mental health care.
BMM: Can you share with us your personal story?
GWTF: Ever since a young age I knew I was wired a little differently. Confused, frustrated, and scared of my own thoughts and feelings. Happy one second, irritated the next, sad the next, then happy again. Thoughts always rushing through my head worrying about the slightest things. Some feelings just too hard to explain. It has been as debilitating as any physical injury or illness. I have a co-morbid mental illness meaning I struggle with more than one, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD, and OCD. At first the diagnosis was hard to swallow. I felt abnormal. But there was one thing I knew for sure and it was that I wanted to feel better.
Over the years I have seen various therapists and psychiatrists, experimented with different medications, and completed intravenous ketamine treatments. I have always kept this large part of my life a secret, scared that others would think differently of me or label me as psycho and or crazy. Today, I have no hesitation to share. Battling with yourself is no easy task and I am so proud of the progress I have made. I overcame the toughest battle of my life and if I can do that, then I can do anything.
I still have my bad days but now I’m prepared, and I refuse to let it prevent me from enjoying life. I cannot stress enough how important it is to seek support from health care professionals, family, and friends. My family has been my rock through it all. I am beyond grateful for their patience and willingness to do everything in their power to get me the help I needed. It pains me to know that there are many others out there going through what I have gone through. Even more painful that some do not have the resources and funding to get that help. I created this foundation with the hopes to make a difference in someone else’s life. To show them they are never alone!”
BMM: Does your nonprofit have a signature event / events ?
GWTF: We look to have a signature “Future of Fortitude” gala every May during mental health awareness month. There we would have keynote speakers, food/drink, fun activities, and will announce our scholarship winner(s) for that year.
BMM: What kind of support is your non profit looking for?
GWTF: There is a lot we hope to accomplish as a non-profit organization but in order to become officially and legally registered with the state of MA, we need some help! We are looking for any help we can get because one can never receive too much support! We are open to all! Donations are greatly appreciated! When public events become the norm again, we will be needing volunteers. Right now, we are starting a virtual segment and will be looking for mental health survivors comfortable in sharing their story/experience with the public. We are also currently accepting donations on our Go Fund Me page. Until public events are allowed we will be doing a lot on our social media pages specifically Instagram and Facebook.
BMM: Where / what do proceeds go towards?
GWTF: Currently all proceeds will help us register our non-profit with the state. Once we are registered, our scholarship program will award the donated funds to one young adult student battling a mental illness.
BMM:How can people get involved?
GWTF: You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org dm us on our social media pages @growwiththefloworg. We encourage the community to continue supporting others by committing small acts of kindness. You never know what the person beside you is battling. We need to stop the stigma!
BMM: How has your nonprofit helped so far?
GWTF: So far, the outpour of response to our start up has been eye opening! You would never realize how many people you know are struggling. I have had people comment on how the sharing of my story has helped them become more confident in opening up about theirs.
Wow, I don’t know about you but with so much uncertainty in our world right now, it sure feels good to know that there is also so much good happening. If you or anyone you know is struggling from a mental illness please reach out to Grow With The Flow or me directly. I can assure you you are not alone and the braver we are with being open the closer we get to ending the stigma, let’s do this together. Thank you for all that you do Grow With The Flow and I can’t wait to support you every step of the way. As always, thank you for reading and supporting your local nonprofits.
Alexandra Marcello is the Non-Profit Coordinator for BostonMan Magazine. A lifelong philanthropist, Ally also balances her time as a model, actress, television host and real estate agent. If you have a non-profit or charitable cause you would like to have featured in BostonMan, please reach out to Ally here.